Ben Olam Haba

I once heard a rav say that you are exactly where you're supposed to be. Another time he discussed the notion of the difference between those who have a "piece" of Olam Haba versus those who are a ben Olam Haba. One who has a piece of Olam Haba can lose it, but a ben Olam Haba is one who is rooted in the next world as if it's a yerusha. This person will be welcomed to the next world as a son who belongs. 

How does one reconcile the idea that you are presently exactly where you're supposed to be in concordance with the fact that the goal is to be a ben Olam Haba, which requires mammoth growth and change?

Perhaps from a life perspective you are in fact where you need to be in terms of where you were born, what your past was like, how you became what you became, where you live, who you are presently interacting with, what you're accomplishing and what kind of change you’re causing. But regardless of this, if you want to be a ben Olam Haba who has an indelible piece in the next world, whereby you will be celebrated when you arrive, you must be pushing your spiritual cylinders at full blast. 

So, indeed, you are where you're supposed to be, but to become a permanent member in the next world, a tireless spiritual engagement in learning, mitzvot and chesed, must be implemented.

This ability to become a ben Olam Haba, even when man's birth embodies inherent impurity as Tazriah connotes, is reason for celebration. Tazriah introduces the idea that birth brings with it tumah. It’s quite a startling idea. We all see birth as a new beginning, as a time of opportunity and endless possibilities. But the Torah doesn’t seem to present it that way. What’s at the heart of the dilemma and how can we solve this conundrum?

The Gemara (Eruvin 13b) brings down the famous machloket between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel as to whether it was a good thing that man was created. Though initially Beit Hillel held that it was, they eventually concurred with Beit Shammai that in fact it would have been better that man was never created. This conclusion doesn’t speak well in regard to the birth of man.

Furthermore, we also know the Mishna in Avot (4:22) that says, “For against your will were you formed, against your will were you born, against your will you live, against your will you will die, and against your will you will give an account and reckoning before the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.” Again, this passage seems to offer nothing celebratory about man’s existence (though according to this view, in the absolute, we could claim our existence is against our will affording us a reprieve from judgment just like we claimed an original exemption from the Oral Law that was given against our will).

We can understand the above two points based on the notion that man has rebelled against G-d from the beginning of time. From Adam himself to modern times, there always existed constant upheaval.

However, the greatest sage in history, Rabbi Akiva, the eternal optimist, provides the answer to why in fact birth and the title of ben is reason for celebration.

He used to say: Beloved is man for he was created in the image [of G-d]. Especially beloved is he for it was made known to him that he had been created in the image [of G-d], as it is said: “for in the image of G-d He made man” (Genesis 9:6). Beloved are Israel in that they were called children to the All-Present. Especially beloved are they for it was made known to them that they are called children of the All-Present, as it is said: “you are children to the Lord your G-d” (Deuteronomy 14:1). Beloved are Israel in that a precious vessel was given to them. Especially beloved are they for it was made known to them that the desirable instrument, with which the world had been created, was given to them, as it is said: “for I give you good instruction; forsake not my teaching” (Proverbs 4:2).” - Avot 3:14

Rabbi Akiva pinpoints the saving grace of man: he is in the image of G-d and has a piece of G-d within him. And we are His children - the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon us. In such a scenario, the idea of ben Olam Haba is real. We are the banim of G-d who took part in our creation and are therefore tasked to spiritually cling to Him.

There is another lesson that Rabbi Akiva teaches that matches the mitzah of Brit Milah presented in our parsha. Besides a physical circumcision that is required, there is also a spiritual one necessary, as the verse (Deuteronomy 10:16) proclaims: “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart and be no more stiff-necked.” This circumcision calls for a total opening up of our hearts to G-d which will prevent us from being stiff-necked. If we are open and honest with G-d, G-d will appreciate us. And we know, the Mishnah in Menachot (13:11) explains: “Rachmana liba ba'eih - Hashem desires the heart.” If we can serve G-d in full transparency, then we belong to Him.

Amazingly, Rabbi Akiva endured a physical slaughter, almost a physical milah, in addition to his ability to open his heart to G-d. This shows the level that Rabbi Akiva could attain.

To conclude, there are certainly negatives inherent in mankind. From the beginning of time man has rebelled against G-d and exhibited stiff-necked like behavior, and the argument could be made that it would have been better that man was never created. But Rabbi Akiva pinpointed the potential of man, and why his existence can be glorious. Indeed, the title of ben Olam Haba is achievable for all of us. We are infused with G-d, G-d partnered in creating us, we are His children and we have His Torah to guide us on the right path to reach an eternal connection.

Parenthetically, we must also realize that to achieve spiritual greatness there must be ups and downs as man cannot avoid sin as the verse says, “For there is no man so wholly righteous on earth that he always does good and never sins” (Kohelet 7:20). Therefore, even the tumah in Tazriah, if taken in context, highlights the battle necessary to achieve great spiritual heights.